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Upstate medical experts urge Assembly to require helmets for skiers under 14

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
From left to right, a ski helmet, a bike helmet and a multi-sport helmet (not recommended for skiing or biking).

Medical professionals at Upstate University Hospital are urging the New York State Assembly to pass legislation that would require skiers and snowboarders under the age of 14 to wear helmets. Experts say injuries on the slopes can be more severe than accidents on bicycles.

Upstate Pediatric Trauma Medical Director Kim Wallenstein said every year, the trauma center sees about 10-20 children admitted following an accident from snow sports, and many more are seen as outpatients for things like concussions.

“From the head injury standpoint it can be anything from minor cuts to skull fractures, to bleeding within the brain and within the head, which are the more severe injuries and they can even lead to death,” Wallenstein said.

That is why Wallenstein said it is critically important to require helmets for young skiers with developing brains.

“The helmets will not prevent every injury from happening and they won’t even prevent severe injuries or death from happening, but they’re the best ways to reduce the severity or prevent injuries from happening with these high speed sports,” Wallenstein said.

Ski helmets can withstand multiple impacts but can cost almost twice as much as bike helmets. Liz Sapio, a pediatric injury prevention coordinator at Upstate, said they have been traveling to schools offering helmets at cost to students.  

“Some school districts have said, I’m going to adopt this as a policy regardless of what the law has said," Sapio said. "Whether or not the law has passed, it’s the best practice.”

The state Senate passed legislation in January. But two competing bills in the Assembly differed on who would be responsible for enforcing the helmet requirement: local police or ski resorts. The issue could be taken up again after the budget is passed at the end of the month.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.